Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Simple Tips for Greener Wandering

What may look like a hill is actually a literal mountain of garbage. The locals outside of Kolkata call it Garbage Mountain, having no choice but to plant at its foot due to its immense size.

When encompassed in a fuzzy, intoxicating wandering bubble, it is easy to forget any and all cares that come to mind. Obnoxious responsibilities are deflated by exotic tastes, while concerns over money or jobs seem to waft away when a new smell meets your nose. Travel is good for the soul, as is allowing worries to evaporate. But with any action comes a reaction, and the consequences of travel can often arrive in the form of a slightly large ecological footprint. Plane rides, potable water, meals on the go, all these things can lead to extra waste and environmental degradation during a jaunt into the unknown. Though this thought can easily puncture that alluring bubble, simple foresight can fortify those exterior walls, easing your environmental impact, and exciting your senses even further.

Animals sifting through Garbage Mountain

Reusable Containers: While I can’t speak for all travelers, I know one of my favorite travel past times is indulging in local food, specifically of the street persuasion. Hawker, or street food, is a budget traveler’s bread and butter. It is quick, cheap, and easy, allowing you to eat full meals, while economically diving directly into the local culture. The issue, though, is that many countries have hopped on the plastic bag, individual wrapping train, which leads to accumulating mounds of waste. Many street stalls don’t offer reusable plates containers, instead adopting disposable alternatives. To combat this, a simple solution is traveling with tupperware, a reusable cup or mug, and utensils (if you don’t enjoy eating with your hands). It may seem silly, but many places around the world that have ample street food don’t have ridiculous laws around serving food into outside containers. While you may get weird looks, the amount of plastic you will avoid using is enough to overcome that slight awkward feeling. You also get to enjoy a new argument when bargain food and drink prices!

Ground Transportation: While the carbon footprint associated with flights is difficult to avoid, once you find yourself in your chosen region, there are more ecological ways to travel. Public ground transportation is the name of the game here. I know for myself, I’ve spent a lot of time in Southeast Asia. With this being a heavily visited area, the options to get around seem to be ever-changing. While new routes come in and out of fashion, the truth is, even while jumping country borders, if you have the option for some form of boat, bus, or train, there is a good chance you will be more green than with a short plane ride. Obviously, this isn’t always 100% true. Certain types of vessels in these categories, such as cruise ships, are environmentally awful. Independent research is important, as well as mimicking how the general, local population tend to migrate. These forms of travel may not be as fast as flying, but the consolation prize is the amazing realization of how silly man-made borders are. If you think you can tell where one country ends and another begins without some sort of signage, I highly recommend land travel in your future.

Water Purification: One of the most difficult environmental issues of travel comes from potable water. Whether you are headed to islands or on long backpacking excursions, water is a necessity. Many people rely on individual, plastic bottles to fill this need. With how water is packaged and sold as a resource, this is understandable, but unfortunately creates a huge ecological burden. For those looking to kick the plastic habit, two easy ways to do this are either buying your water in bulk (which comes in large, refillable barrels much like that in office buildings), or traveling with some sort of water purification system. My preferred method is a Steripen and reusable water bottle. It may not do anything for taste, but it has gotten me through my trips abroad with minimal bottle usage (and only one stomach bug which I actually attest to questionable egg curry on a train). Purification doesn’t have to be expensive, and the amount of waste it can save is nearly incomprehensible. 

Self-Proplled Transportation: The final tip I would offer is the beauty of self-propelled transportation. While cars, motorbikes, and other fast, small forms of travel are fun, there is something to be said about seeing the sights by ways of your own two feet. While writing for a blog called Left Coast Running, I dabbled with the idea of why every runner should be a backpacker, and vice versa. Being able to walk, bike, or run around a new location is a great way to familiarize yourself with your surroundings, as well as take in a lot of sights on the cheap. Everyone may not be concerned with budget while abroad, but the merits of seeing a new destination on your own fruition are numerous. Besides, you are on vacation, what else are you going to do? I promise that end-of-the-day libation will taste even better after propelling yourself around a new destination.  

While politicians and scientists mindlessly fight what actually causes global warming, it is up to us as individuals to leave each destination in a better spot than when we found it. Like Spiderman (or maybe a historical figure?) taught us, with great privilege comes great responsibility. Travel is a wonderful privilege, offering us more than we could ever ask for. Why not give back with small changes that will make a huge impact? 

A photo from the Great Pacific Trash Dump, or "Trash Island."

Photos courtesy of Author, Steripen, and Above Top Secret

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